Marilu Henner is one of the more incredible people you can meet in Hollywood. Here are a few reasons why:
-- She has literally one of the best autobiographical memories in the world, which she's used to become an expert on the human body.
-- She has written nine books on living a healthy lifestyle.
-- She has appeared on Broadway in musicals and dramas, played several iconic film and television roles, has cameo'd in dozens of television shows, and does a radio show for three hours every morning.
-- She has even cured cancer, at least in one patient: her husband.
Check out our conversation below, where we discuss her numerous projects, her incredible memory, her favorite things, Robin Williams, and much more!
GGM: At GoGoMix we like to hear about what you’re working on and find out some of your favorite things. Now, you are somewhat notorious for being in the middle of a ton of projects constantly. What are you working on right now?
MH: Okay, well every single day, I do a three-hour a day radio show from 9 a.m. to Noon. Five days a week, I’m on the air. I’ve been doing it for a year. We play on more and more stations and we stream online, so I’ve gotten fan mail from all over the world! It’s been an incredible ride! Every week we pick up more stations! It’s a whole different experience. I’ve also been keeping up with my television career. I recently appeared for five episodes on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Can’t give you any secrets about if I’m coming back, but it’s a pretty crazy character! I also recently played Robin Williams ex-wife and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s mother on The Crazy Ones. Oh, I’m so sad about Robin! That was a real shock. I’m working on my tenth book as well. I’ve written nine books about food and health and lifestyle and parenting, everything from the 30 Day Total Health Makeover to I Refuse to Raise a Brat, Total Memory Makeover—I have a very unusual memory. I’m one of twelve people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, so I’m doing research on that. Every once in a while, I go to UC Irvine, and they test my brain. Anyway, the working title for my tenth book is How I Cured My Husband’s Cancer. My husband and I knew each other in college, and we reconnected eleven and a half years ago, and two months into the relationship, he was diagnosed with cancer. Because I’d been in the health field a long time, people think of me as a sort of “Doctor Concierge.” I was able to take him around to all the doctors I knew. We put a protocol together. He did not go through chemo and radiation. He went through major detox. The book is really our love story and talking about what he did. I’m also involved in a Broadway show called Getting the Band Back Together, and we’re just waiting on a theater.
GGM: Okay! That is a lot of things indeed! I’ll ask you follow-ups one at a time! Going back to The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams, it’s unfortunately such a prevalent topic right now, but I have to ask, what was that like?
MH: I knew Robin in 1977 when I first got to Los Angeles. We were in an improv class together before I got Taxi and he got Mork and Mindy. He was so much fun to be on stage with. You barely had to say anything and you knew you were gonna be in a successful improv. We both hung out at the Paramount Lot while we were shooting our respective sitcoms. That was such a great time. It was The Happy Days gang and Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley and Jim Belushi and Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks and all the Taxi guys! Every Friday night, Taxi would have a party. It was like going to the coolest high school with the coolest kids! So Robin and I would see each other over the years. He was actually there when I went into labor! I was on stage with him! I would say to people, “I didn’t know I was in labor! I just thought I was laughing so hard from Robin!” It was eight days before my due date, and two hours later, I had a baby! Robin and I always seemed to be together at crucial points in our life. When The Crazy Ones came up, he asked for me! I got to spend a week working on it. And I saw him healthier, stronger, happier than I’d seen him! He seemed great! His death was such a shock.
GGM: I hear you just finished Vanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike.
MH: Yes, with Christopher Durang! How fun is that!?
GGM: In an interview with the Kathy Lee and Hoda Show, you said was “the most fun you’ve ever had.” Is that still true now it’s finished?
MH: It’s my favorite part I’ve ever played! I can’t wait till they do the musical version. I want to do this part a lot because it’s such a great experience, and he was wonderful. I feel like I found a true friend. It’s such an outrageous character! Every time you do it, you find something new! Last weekend, a line I felt good about, I found something completely new on stage, and I was like “Ah, why didn’t I do that from day one?!” It was a much better choice. You feel like you can go deeper and deeper into the character and the jokes get funnier as well. It’s great!
GGM: Is there any role you’ve always wanted to play but have never had a chance to?
MH: I’ve always wanted to be in The King and I. I felt I’ve always gotten that character as a teacher. There are some great characters, so many wonderful parts to play! That was the first that came to mind.
GGM: Can you tell me a couple of your favorite Broadway musicals?
MH: I think Guys and Dolls is probably still my favorite. I love Chicago. I played the part of Roxy for 408 performances! I did the Fosse choreography! Recently, I loved Book of Mormon. That was a blast. I love Into the Woods, Pippin. I love all of it!
GGM: You’ve done a ton of television cameos. Which show was your favorite to work on?
MH: Well, I had a blast kissing Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men! (laughs) I had a good time on Grey’s Anatomy. I loved doing The Glades, an A&E show. I’d have to say my favorite two movies to do were L.A. Story with Steve Martin, and Noises Off. Noises Off is a blast!
GGM: Ah, Noises Off is one of my personal favorites!
MH: We learned it as a play first! It’s such a Swiss watch, the way it’s put together. There’s no way you can’t know the whole before breaking it up into pieces. It’s the only film I’ve ever done where we completely shot in sequence.
GGM: So was doing the movie sort of like doing the play within the movie, where things just get crazier as the play goes on?
MH: Oh my gosh, completely! Everybody was falling apart by the end! It didn’t even matter what we thought our costumes were going to look like. It was such a mess! Carol Burnett used to say “You know we’re gonna have to have a Noises Off Anonymous after this.” We felt so shell-shocked after that experience!
GGM: You’ve done an incredible amount of work promoting healthy living—
MH: Oh, that’s another thing! In the next seven weeks, I have like six speaking engagements! I have them all over the country. I’m doing them constantly for, like, 2,000 people!
GGM: What got you started focusing on healthy living and lifestyles?
MH: I lost my parents very young in life. My father died when I was 17 of a heart attack. I’d been a teenage YoYo dieter, but when that happened, I started eating my feelings. I ballooned up to a very high weight. When my mother got ill, I said “This isn’t gonna be about my weight anymore. It’s gonna be about my health." I watched my Mom die of rheumatoid arthritis at 58. When I watched her suffer in the hospital, I thought, “Wow, her body is still trying to fight back. Imagine if she had done the right things.” I decided to learn everything about health then. I became an obsessed student, and because of my memory, I just have to read something and I have it (memorized). I was able to cross connect a lot of information. I dropped 54 pounds, lost a lot of cholesterol, and never looked back. It’s such a passion of mine. I’m thrilled I can use my “actor voice” for that. If I can help other people, that makes me feel happy.
GGM: Have you seen any good movies lately?
MH: I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel. I catch up on my movies on planes because I travel so much. I think this summer, I don’t think I’ve seen one good movie I like! I mean, I liked Silver Linings Playbook, but I can’t think of a single movie I’ve really loved lately!
GGM: What are you reading currently?
MH: Oh, I’m reading Sam Wasson’s Fosse book! I love reading on planes too. Planes are places I really get to catch up. The book is so good, and I know all the players.
GGM: What music do you listen to?
MH: I have two sons, and the two of them are always turning me on to things. I knew about Disclosure and their song “Latch” in January (laughs). One of the memory exercises I teach people is put on an album from your past and walk around listening to it, and relive that entire summer, or the time when that album was popular to you.
GGM: Your memory is famously the best. Do you find that extremely convenient or—
MH: Oh my god, it’s the best thing ever!
GGM: So you never wish you could forget some things, like some negative experiences?
MH: Never! It’s like, would you not want Google! I like being able to access everything. This is what I say: If all we do is wake up, live our lives, turn off the lights, go to sleep, and nothing moves forward, then what does it all mean? By developing a stronger autobiographical memory, you bring the information from your past into your present and let it inform a better future. To me, that’s our strongest line of defense against meaninglessness. If nothing is recorded, then what’s used?
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